Hamsters are short tailed nocturnal small rodents that come from desert environments. Several genera are seen as pets: Golden (Syrian), Chinese (striped) and Russian (Hairy footed or Djungarian). The commonest pet species is the Golden and these are all derived from just 3 individuals imported into the UK in 1931. In the wild they live a solitary existence in deep burrows with large grain stores.
Generally pet Golden hamsters are kept singly to prevent fighting. Mutations have led to the development of a variety of coat colours and a longhaired coat. The smaller Chinese & Russian hamsters are becoming increasingly popular, as they seem to be less aggressive, though some Vets would not agree! In the wild these dwarf hamsters tend to live as family groups and can be kept as pairs as pets. Hamsters as pets are relatively odourless and have simple needs. However they can bite and will gnaw through cages. Their size and speed make them not so suitable for young children and many bought for them live a very lonely life as they are ignored. The Small Russian hamsters are bad for biting and that puts a child off completely from handling them, then they become even more difficult to handle.
Hamsters have large cheek pouches and can carry large quantities of food in them. Males have large testicles, which stick out backwards either side of the tail - we have some calls from owners who think they are growths! They also have dark coloured glands on each flank - also commonly mistaken for small sores or growths. Hamsters' front long incisor teeth continue to grow throughout life, but the cheek teeth do not. This difference from rabbits, means they can have a convenient pelleted food without the worry of the cheek teeth from overgrowing.